In her book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, recently published in paperback, author Barbara Strauch, deputy science editor of The New York Times in charge of health and medical science, makes the case, based on scientific studies, that there are things you can do to help maintain cognitive sharpness, despite the normal aging process.
This fascinating book, which has received enthusiastic reviews, gives hope to the middle-aged Baby Boomer (the typical family caregiver) worried by the typical forgetting of names and other memory lapses that come with aging.
In The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, Ms. Strauch discusses a number of scientific studies suggesting that the middle-aged brain has remarkably more flexibility and capacity to regenerate itself than had commonly been assumed. Based on the findings of these studies, she presents practical tips on how to maintain mental agility despite the normal aging process.
Among the tips:
- Use your brain: Try memory or cognitive computer games, learn new skills, such as learning a new language, which use both sides of your brain. Ms. Strauch says that one study showed that a group of seniors in their 60′s who taught themselves to play the piano scored better on cognitive tests after six months;
- Exercise: Studies suggest that aerobic exercise, such as walking or running, which stimulate blood flow and oxygen to the brain, actually may increase the number of new neurons generated in the brain, and thereby improve mental functioning. In addition, some studies suggest that exercise may “selectively target” the neuron production to the middle part of the brain, which normally declines with the aging process. Another study she sites found that people over 60 who walked or ran for an hour three times a week experienced less brain shrinkage over time, and maintained more brain volume and better connection between the right an left sides of the brain than those who stayed sedentary;
- Eat a Healthy Diet: Less is known yet about the possible effects of various diets on the brain, but studies are beginning to focus on this. Ms. Strauch mentions some studies focusing on vitamin C and E, Ginkgo biloba, caffeine, and reservatrol from red wine and dark grapes, among others. She says that a 2008 study by the U.S. National Institute on Aging found that resveratrol slows age-related mental decline in mice, and its effect is now being tested in monkeys. Beyond that, other evidence points to the beneficial effects of eating a healthy diet in general and maintaining a healthy weight;
- Socialize: Social relationships, friends, and a sense of connection with others has been shown to help maintain brain health despite aging. The author cites a Johns Hopkins University study showing that senior men and women who were active in volunteer organizations experienced a slower rate of mental decline with aging than did their peers who did not volunteer. The author maintains that social relationships, by demanding more complex and different skills than activities such as crossword puzzles, exercise a different part of the barin (the frontal cortex), and thereby help keep your brain healthy.
Read more about the author, Barbara Strauch, on her website, GrownUpBrain.com.
The book can be purchased at Amazon.com: The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.
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